as one of the most versatile athletes
in school history. Given the school's illustrious history in that
department, such a claim certainly carries some weight.
It's justified with a quick examination of the weapons Gaffney
featured in his arsenal.
Speed was there. Look no further than his burning 69-yard edge
touchdown run to open the Pac-12 Championship Game.
So was agility. Gaffney's opening score at USC
in 2011 featured a
catch in the flat followed by shake-and-bake and a sideline
tightrope job in traffic.
Power? If there were any questions regarding that prior to the 2013
season, there certainly weren't any after it. Gaffney churned out
1,709 rushing yards in Stanford's phone booth offense, racking up a
single-game school record 45 carries against stacked boxes in the
season's monumental win versus Oregon
Then there was his ability to pass block, an especially difficult
weapon to master. Obstructing a charging opponent while dealing with
a 50-pound weight disadvantage is a challenging requirement for
running backs in the Stanford system. Gaffney, though, also mastered
this art of backfield pass protection.
Oh, and as a bonus, he boasted that whole hand-eye coordination
thing, too. Before his remarkable senior football season, Gaffney
established himself as a successful professional baseball player:
His .483 on-base percentage playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates
single A affiliate in State College, PA put him on track to advance
through the minor league ranks.
But even when Gaffney was on the baseball diamond, he brought a
decided football flavor to his game. He wasn't afraid of contact in
the batter's box: Pitchers drilled him 20 times in 151 plate
appearances. While the rugged nature that suited the gridiron
perfectly also helped Gaffney succeed in the ballpark, it also
screamed the inevitable: One day, no. 25 was going to return to the
It was just a matter of time.
That time came a few weeks after Stanford's 2013 Rose Bowl victory
. The magnet of Stanford Stadium had been tugging at
Gaffney for some time, and he could no longer resist it. He returned
to David Shaw's program just before his eligibility expired and
ended up delivering one of the finest rushing seasons in school
history to spearhead another Rose Bowl run.
The critical leg of that tear came on November 7, 2013, when Oregon
waltzed onto The Farm, thirsty for revenge after the 2012 game at
Autzen Stadium, a Stanford overtime win that Gaffney watched from
the stands. A year later, Gaffney administered the physical beating
himself -- from the field. His 45 carries allowed the Cardinal to
eat over 42 minutes of clock.
In a beautiful piece of symmetry, that workhorse performance came
four years to the day after Toby Gerhart
had smashed the Ducks
program with a bruising 38-carry effort of his own. That 2009
masterpiece, which came when Gaffney was one of Gerhart's freshman
understudies, announced Stanford's physical arrival on the national
By 2013, Gaffney was no longer the pupil. He made his own November 7
mark, and it reaffirmed Stanford's physical control of the Pac-12
while sending a resounding message: Dominance on the ground was a constant for The Farm.
Of course, plenty happened in Gaffney's college career between those
two November 7 milestones. He accounted for 117 of Stanford's
rushing yards in the record-breaking 446-yard beatdown of Washington
in 2011. He also formed the glue of Mark Marquess' lineup at Sunken
Diamond. But that unflinching, bruising, and ultimately triumphant
Thursday night against Oregon will live on as the lasting memory of
Gaffney's time in a Stanford football uniform. He beat the Ducks into submission that night.
The Carolina Panthers
selected Gaffney in the sixth round of the NFL
Draft, so he'll immediately enter a crowded backfield that includes
, Jonathan Stewart
, Kenjon Barner
, and fullback
. It's possible that the Panthers may begin by using
Gaffney in goal line situations. They did, after all, have great
difficulty scoring there against the San Francisco 49ers
year's playoff loss.
Many questioned Gaffney's speed leading up to the NFL Draft, but his
4.49 40-yard dash time assuaged worries that likely arose because of
Stanford's extreme power running style, characterized by packed-in
formations which can limit a back's ability to sprint in the open
field. Gaffney himself is more than confident that his speed will
transfer to the next level. He's certainly shown the power,
durability, and intelligence necessary to put up a strong fight in
Carolina's crowded backfield room.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com
and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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Stanford running back and outfielder Tyler Gaffney is one of the most versatile athletes in school history. Now, he's heading to the NFL after playing professional baseball.